As a book reviewer, I read a lot of first chapters and beginnings to judge whether I want to review a book. Instead of being moved by the cover or hype from other readers, I usually have only the blurb and the words themselves to guide me (I often haven’t even seen the cover until afterwards).
And I’ve come to the conclusion that a book doesn’t have to be flashy to “hook” me. It doesn’t have to start with a bang, and even that much-discussed opening sentence or paragraph doesn’t have to be artistic, original, awe-inspiring, or amazing.
It just has to be authentic. It has to “taste” like the rest of the book.
The beginning has to setup whatever follows. If it’s an action-adventure novel, we should see that in the opening. If it’s a slower paced work exploring a particular theme, the first chapter should reflect that pace and interest. It may not introduce the theme entirely, but it should hint at it.
Because, ultimately, the beginning is designed as a prime sample of what the rest of the story has to offer. If you have humor in your book, that should be represented in the beginning. If you have romance, marriage, suspense, danger, or even magic, it should be hinted at in the beginning.
It’s kind of like those samples they give away at the deli. They slice off a piece of cheese or meat and hand it to you, and you use that taste to judge how much of the rest you’d like to buy. Did you enjoy the flavor? The thickness of the slice? The texture and consistency? If they gave you salami when the rest of the product is a fine provolone, you’d be making your decision based on flawed information. The beginning would set you up to expect something that the rest of the book never delivers.
So, as the proverb on marriage says, “Begin as you mean to go on.” Write something that represents who you are, as a writer, and what you are writing, and let your readers judge accordingly. Don’t try to follow a fad or even a genre-standard if it doesn’t fit your story. Tell the story you want to write, and make sure the beginning reflects the rest: in tone, in humor, and in content.
Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by JessicaGale, Creative Commons